From Cuttlefish to Clinic | The Enterprise Sessions with Shelby Temple

 

How could a chance discovery in cuttlefish biology help protect our sight? Join Professor Michele Barbour in conversation with Dr Shelby Temple, the CEO and Co-Founder of Azul Optics, a medical device company focused on using innovative screening technologies to improve eye health. Hear about Shelby’s transition from academia to entrepreneurship and the importance of building the right team.

 

Highlights

§  Delve into the research on a unique eye pigment and the accidental discovery that led to the creation of Azul Optics’ ground-breaking technology.

§  Hear about Shelby’s move from academic to entrepreneur and the support he received from Bristol SETsquared and the Innovate UK ICURe programme.

§  Learn about the significance of building the right team and the dynamic interplay between business and scientific partners crucial for Azul Optics’ success.

§  Shelby discusses the company’s work to realise their full market potential, their goal of being acquired and their mission to educate and leave a lasting impact on eye health.

 

🌐 About the Enterprise Sessions

The Enterprise Sessions bring together a diverse mix of company founders and researchers who talk openly about their personal experiences of forming spin-outs and start-ups, raising capital, academic-industry partnerships and the joys of translating research discoveries into real-world impact.

The series aims to inform, inspire and challenge myths and stereotypes about research commercialisation and how businesses and universities can work together to tackle society’s biggest challenges.

 

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If you found this episode inspiring or informative, please don’t forget to like and share. Visit our website or subscribe to the University of Bristol’s YouTube channel for more Enterprise Sessions.

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/enterprise-sessions

 

🔗 Connect with Azul optics

Azul optics website: https://azuloptics.com/

Azul optics on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/azuloptics/

Azul optics on X: https://twitter.com/azuloptics

Azul optics on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/azul_optics

 

Commercialisation resources:

University of Bristol Commercialisation team: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/business/innovate-and-grow/research-commercialisation/

iCure program: https://www.icureprogramme.com/

SETsquared program: https://www.setsquared.co.uk/

 

 

 

Transcript:

 

00:00:00 Prof Michele Barbour

Welcome to the enterprise sessions. Today I’m speaking with Doctor Shelby Temple, who is CEO and Co founder of Azul Optics. Shelby, thank you very much indeed for your time .

00:00:08 Dr Shelby Temple
It’s a pleasure

00:00:09 Prof Michele Barbour

So I’m really looking forward to exploring Azul’s story where you’ve come from where you’re going and so on. But perhaps we could just start with a bit about your background, what brought you to Bristol?

00:00:20 Prof Michele Barbour

What brought you to the UK?

00:00:22 Dr Shelby Temple

Sure. So I had had the good fortune of working in various different labs and research stations all over the world. And I I just enjoy traveling. So I’ve done work in Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Fiji, kind of all over the US and.

00:00:37 Dr Shelby Temple

I think an opportunity came up to explore research in a in a key lab that was doing sort of cutting edge research. And I and I just that’s what I was following anyway. So there was no question of where it was, was just is it the right, is it the right research that’s going on? Am I doing the right thing? And and I’ll put up with wherever I’m located. But to be fair, I came from Australia in the middle of summer.

00:00:56 Dr Shelby Temple

To come here in the middle of winter and it was quite a a challenging change for myself and my family.

00:01:01 Prof Michele Barbour

I could imagine and.

00:01:03 Prof Michele Barbour

Next here you are some years later, so there must have been some charm of the the lab, the city, the country.

00:01:08 Dr Shelby Temple

I fell in love with Bristol to be honest, as did my son, so our whole family did and it’s it’s been really nice being here. We didn’t know anything about Bristol before we came and arriving here it.

00:01:16 Dr Shelby Temple

Was a pleasant surprise.

00:01:19 Prof Michele Barbour

Brilliant. Thank you. Not an uncommon story, actually. I feel much the same. Super. So tell me a little bit about Azure optics. Maybe we’ll start with the research that led you to spin out your company.

00:01:31 Prof Michele Barbour

And maybe in doing so, was it always your plan to spin at a company or did that happen by chance?

00:01:36 Dr Shelby Temple

I think probably many people say it’s by chance. I think in this space anyways, I didn’t intend to. It was serendipity for sure. I was researching polarization vision in fish and aquatic animals, particularly octopus and cuttlefish, and I sort of in doing so.

00:01:52 Dr Shelby Temple

How to create special monitors to show these animals polarized light which we don’t typically see very well and it just so happened that when I looked at these monitors I noticed that I could see strange patterns and I thought well, that’s intriguing. And and I started testing colleagues and and students and noticed that there was variability in the way that they could see these patterns on these monitors.

00:02:12 Dr Shelby Temple

Which meant that there was some underlying variability in the human ability to see this, and it was sort of one of those situations where.

00:02:19 Dr Shelby Temple

If I just been sticking to my research protocol, the grants and everything else that we said we would do, I would have ignored this. But because I’m curious and excited and interested in other things, I thought actually this is worth exploring and what we discovered was that what we were sort of measuring by mistake was this pigment in the human eye. And that pigment is protective against long term damage to the retina.

00:02:40 Dr Shelby Temple

And so we sort of thought, well, hang on a second, we’ve got this totally new way of measuring a pigment.

00:02:45 Dr Shelby Temple

Maybe this is worth exploring as an enterprise of some kind and spinning up, so that’s kind of where it came from. And as I say, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened and we followed the route of least resistance to see whether we could make something.

00:03:00 Prof Michele Barbour

I’m a massive advocate of IQ. I’ve done IQ with my company as well, and I think it’s such a useful program. I know it’s expanded a lot from its early sort of ambitions that were just a few universities. So part of the point of the IQ is to go out and do this market research. So.

00:03:16 Prof Michele Barbour

What was that first market that you identified for us all and and is that still your market or if like many people, did you have to change your mind about who your market was? So what was your first approach?

00:03:28 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, I mean, I guess our business was a little bit different in the sense that we measure an effect that happens in human eye and sadly, this effect doesn’t happen in any other eyes. So a lot of medical device companies often start off on the veterinary route because actually it’s much fewer boundaries to get into that and hurdle.

00:03:44 Dr Shelby Temple

To get over, we didn’t have that option unless we were working on primates, which there wasn’t a lot of demand for. So we had to go down the human and the human eyes. Well, that limits you to optometry and ophthalmology. So quite quickly it was clear what our market was going to be. And ophthalmology in the medical space is very set in its ways. It’s very slow to change. They’re not interested in prevention.

00:04:06 Dr Shelby Temple

They’re interested in solving problems that already exist.

00:04:09 Dr Shelby Temple

So that narrowed us down to optometry pretty quickly, so we knew right away what our market was. The question was what corner of the market and what was our business model going to be? And and that’s you know still.

00:04:19 Dr Shelby Temple

An area of exploration, potentially.

00:04:22 Prof Michele Barbour

Well, there’s, there’s never the first thing you do. The business plan is rip it up, bro. The old cliche goes, but, but so tell me a little bit about what’s what does your company do or make putting it really bluntly. What? What’s your, what’s your output?

00:04:35 Dr Shelby Temple

So we build a device that measures an element of the human eye, which is a pigment that you get only from your diet, and this pigment is there to protect your retina against Violet blue light, which is the most harmful part light that.

00:04:46 Dr Shelby Temple

Gets to the.

00:04:47 Dr Shelby Temple

Back of the eye and it also acts as an antioxidant, so this pigment is really difficult to measure. It’s sort of like a a thin layer of apple juice on a glass of water.

00:04:56 Dr Shelby Temple

It’s it’s really, it’s hard to get to and so there have been sort of half a dozen different techniques that have been developed to try and measure macular pigments, but they are often challenged by them being quite complex, being difficult to use, being very expensive.

00:05:11 Dr Shelby Temple

And our technology was really simple. It was really, really easy. We used the eye to as the sensor and we had the pigments create a shadow on the retina. And so you, you use your the shadow of your own number of amount of pigments as the sort of way of measuring how much pigment you have. So it’s a very simple technology. And so we built a device that made that.

00:05:31 Dr Shelby Temple

As easy as possible, and we focused on ease of use. So the idea being that the technology gives you a number from one to 10 very simple, 10 is good, one is.

00:05:40 Dr Shelby Temple

Said it’s fast. It takes less than a minute, so the idea being that anybody could run this device and in fact, we even made a self test device so you could stick it in the in the office, in the shop, and a person could come up and the video would talk them through how to test themselves. And in a couple of minutes they have an answer. So we it’s it’s a physical device that we’ve made that sort of allows.

00:06:00 Dr Shelby Temple

Optometrist to start a conversation around prevention and long term prevention protect someones.

00:06:05 Dr Shelby Temple

Guys and part of that conversation includes things the person could do to protect their their life and some of those things are products. So the optometrist then gets the benefit of selling something that helps pay for having this device in their time. So that’s sort of the the product that we have. It’s a device, it’s a medical device that helps engage patients in a conversation around.

00:06:28 Prof Michele Barbour

Fascinating. So is your. Is your vision probably not the right way to use, but is your vision that sort of High Street optometrists would would have one of these as part of their suite of tests they do. When, UM, somebody goes in to, to have their eyes checked. It’s just sort of add it to the list of things that they would routinely do.

00:06:44 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, that’s the plan. And and that’s where the models fit really well. So we have got we sold about 250 units around the world and optometrists have it once they put it in place. It’s the challenge is always getting over. It’s a change, right? So you’re you’re asking someone to do something slightly different, so they need to understand why are they going to do this different test, what’s important about it? What why should I fit it in? Why should my patients want to do?

00:07:06 Dr Shelby Temple

And once you can get over that and they see the benefits, suddenly they go OK, now I get it. Now we’re having a conversation that we weren’t having before. And I think for me, that one of the big perks of doing what I did was seeing these optometrists.

00:07:21 Dr Shelby Temple

Grab something new, bring it into their their patient journey, and then go. OK. I don’t know. I didn’t live with how I live without this before. Why wasn’t I doing this before? And to me that that’s everything. And then you know, and and then seeing patients.

00:07:34 Dr Shelby Temple

Taking action based on what they’ve learned is is that the net outcome. So as a researcher, you want your your research to have impact. So to know that I have a device out there and all these different practices, that’s getting people to think differently about their eye health and do something about it. To me that’s I’m already successful no matter what else happens.

00:07:53 Prof Michele Barbour

And you said right at the beginning that these pigments in the eye are derived from the diet. Yeah. So are some of the things that a person might be asked to do or advised to do dietary related? They might be deficient in a certain component. Their diet is. Is that what sort of thing?

00:08:08 Dr Shelby Temple

They can do. Yeah. So there’s there’s a variety of different things that affect the amount of pigs.

00:08:12 Dr Shelby Temple

You have and the most of their lifestyle, so diet is definitely one of them. And but unfortunately lots of people don’t want to eat the things that give you the pig which you need. So things like kale and spinach, dark green leafies in general some of the brightly colored fruits and veg and and in modern day people are looking for a quick easy fix. They want quick meals, they want, you know simple. So they’re.

00:08:34 Dr Shelby Temple

Diversifying their diet, as they should, I always say eat a rainbow, but that’s not the end of it because you can actually just take a pill, you can take a supplement that boosts these levels of pigments as well. So we the message we try to get across is we want optometrists to tell their patients that they should be starting off with the healthiest approach, which is either rainbow. But if that’s not possible, then supplements are an option.

00:08:53 Dr Shelby Temple

And that’s how you boost the levels. But the other thing you need to do is not decrease the levels, so your body’s already got some of these pigments. So how do you keep them where they are so they don’t get worse and that’s about protecting your eye from the things that make it worse. So things like smoking these things create oxidization in the retina, sunlight. So wearing sunglasses or blue light filtering glasses is really.

00:09:12 Dr Shelby Temple

Important exercise maintains a good level of these pigments and keeps the oxidative processes balanced. Obesity has a big impact, so there’s a bunch of really basic lifestyle demographic things that we can look at and we can help use blindness as a very strong way of getting people to think more about.

00:09:33 Prof Michele Barbour

Tell me a bit more about the we you were a research associate at this stage in your career. A research fellow. Yeah. So who are you working with?

00:09:41 Prof Michele Barbour

And how did that dynamic work? The balance between following your curiosity and sticking to the plan and delivering the objectives of whatever funding organizations funded the project, OK.

00:09:52 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah. So my PR was Nick Roberts at the university and he came from a different background came from physics, but was working in biology. So he was open minded about different areas. There was another post doc at the time who was really interested in one element of the project. And we brought on some students we did 233 year third year student projects as well. So it was a bunch of different people in.

00:10:11 Dr Shelby Temple

Involved, but I think it was there was some technological hurdles we have to overcome and that’s where I stepped in because I really love to solve problems. And so I think that’s where I sort of picked up the flag and really drove it forward and eventually it sort of became my baby because I put together all the different pieces that we’re going to make this work. And so that was sort of the university.

00:10:31 Dr Shelby Temple

Background, but at that point I was stuck with having this great idea, but no way to do anything with it. And so that’s where I had to get another team to then bring in the commercial side.

00:10:41 Prof Michele Barbour

So before we get to the commercial side, when I speak to RA’s and other early career researchers.

00:10:48 Prof Michele Barbour

And I’m an advocate too, of following your curiosity and actually, you know, going down the rabbit hole, you know what? You might find the most common pushback I get is I don’t have time. I’m fully occupied. And and I have a lot of sympathy with that. There’s only so many hours in the day, and we all want to do something, does not work. How did you manage that? How did you find the?

00:11:08 Prof Michele Barbour

Time to to sort of deliver on this exciting new opportunity as well as the day job.

00:11:16 Dr Shelby Temple

That’s an interesting one. I think probably I went through a bit of.

00:11:18 Dr Shelby Temple

A midlife crisis.

00:11:19 Dr Shelby Temple

So I had sort of been planning to go down and stay in the academic route and that was my intention all along and I’d had good success all the way through. And at this point, I think I realized that those elements of academia that didn’t sit quite right with me, that they’ve pushed towards getting these big grants.

00:11:36 Dr Shelby Temple

And and it was becoming very business like you had to have, you had to follow what was hot topic at the day. And I thought if.

00:11:43 Dr Shelby Temple

I’m going to.

00:11:44 Dr Shelby Temple

Do research in a business like way? Why not just have a business? And I think that’s part of what allowed me to sort of push my way out. And there was also some great funding opportunities. So set Square was coming along with their research.

00:11:56 Dr Shelby Temple

Innovator program I did an eye cure program that I have had a BSRC Enterprise fellowship and each of these things gave me more freedom, so that was funding there to support different acts.

00:12:07 Dr Shelby Temple

Cities and kind of second me into give tasters. I got to put my toes in the water without giving up my possibility of an academic career, but allowing me the space and time to explore those options and to see what it looked like and each step of the way I I got myself deeper and deeper in and felt like actually this is a really exciting and I think it’s partly that sort of curiosity to try new things.

00:12:28 Dr Shelby Temple

I kept sort of going well, this is totally new. I’ve done that and I I think I’ve been successful and I want to try this. So I think that’s what kind of moved me down that path and and gave me the space to do it.

00:12:37 Prof Michele Barbour

I’m really glad you raised that because I think there’s there’s often this viewpoints in the academic community that if you’re going to go down to commercial routes.

00:12:44 Prof Michele Barbour

You have to just jump one day. You’re an academic. One day you’re not. And and there are people that do that. But I I think if that was our only model, there’d be a huge number of innovations that would never make it. Because to take that step is quite scary, actually. So what you’ve described what I’ve understood you to describe is mechanisms that existed that allowed you as an academic.

00:13:06 Prof Michele Barbour

To try on these clothes of the commercial person from a relatively safe position of you could have retreated and said. Actually, no. Academia is the thing for me. Is that how it felt? Did that help you on?

00:13:18 Prof Michele Barbour

That journey, yeah.

00:13:19 Dr Shelby Temple

I’d say that’s very much what it was because each of the programs got you, as I say, a little bit deep.

00:13:23 Dr Shelby Temple

Super into it and at any point and and they were designed in such a way that you learn from them. So the research innovative programs are set square it was fantastic because it it got you to think about being an innovator but innovator doesn’t mean starting an enterprise starting a company it could just mean more innovative grant or different style of research. So the skills I was learning I could quite easily say actually no.

00:13:43 Dr Shelby Temple

I can put this into my research, I can I can use this to write a better grant or whatever else I’m doing, so that was like one step and.

00:13:48 Dr Shelby Temple

And the IQ program was another step. We’re just a bit deeper. You’re you’re thinking more about is there a market for what I’m doing, but it once again, you need to think about, is there a a space for your research and really doing market research for your research is not a bad idea. So each of these steps I could see, I could easily have pulled back in and I might still continue on an academic career at some point, so.

00:14:09 Dr Shelby Temple

All of those things are learning steps and I always felt they were adding value to my life.

00:14:13 Dr Shelby Temple

And what I was doing so.

00:14:14 Prof Michele Barbour

Well, I do think that’s fascinating because there’s not many people. If you walk out and did a straw poll on the street that would know that in an ideal world they wouldn’t smoke, they wouldn’t drink or not very much, there wouldn’t be obese, they would.

00:14:24 Prof Michele Barbour

The size, but very few people would link that to the health of the eye and and the longevity of your vision. So yes, maybe an additional lever to motivate people to have that healthy lifestyle that is is more than the sort of standard things that we talk about.

00:14:40 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah. And blindness is is a very strong motivator.

00:14:44 Prof Michele Barbour

Absolutely. Yeah, I can. I can well appreciate.

00:14:46 Prof Michele Barbour

That so we talked a few minutes ago about the the team within the university and you were I think, you know, blessed to be surrounded by people who are happy to encourage you to follow this sort of interesting but maybe not anticipated routes. What about the commercial team that you then built? So you went through the research renovate, you went through Q?

00:15:07 Prof Michele Barbour

Or did you identify skills or functionalities that you wanted to get around you that you either didn’t have yourself or or didn’t want to become an expert in?

00:15:19 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, I mean right away it was pretty clear that I didn’t have obviously a a grounding in business and I got very lucky. So around the time that I was looking to start a company.

00:15:30 Dr Shelby Temple

We, my wife, was at the school talking to another mom and she was talking to a person whose husband was trying to get out of the business that he was in and looking to do something different. He was going to take a bit of a Sabbatical 6 month break and so they got us to sort of sit down one night, have a beer and chat together. And it turned out that he was sort of the Ying to my Yang.

00:15:49 Dr Shelby Temple

Whereas I was very much scientist and the sort of the problem solver, he was very much the sort of business minded programming software had much more of the process and the and the and the project management side that I certain.

00:16:04 Dr Shelby Temple

We didn’t have and so we came together to found the company and that was a that was amazing because the team you have with you, it could be very lonely to try to do it on your own and and to have an idea and try to drive other people to join you. So being able to inspire someone like that to join me was a big, huge step. And so we founded the company together and then we made all of our decisions together.

00:16:25 Dr Shelby Temple

After that, which was great.

00:16:26 Dr Shelby Temple

Because we were able to look at, you know, where were we lacking? What were we missing and how can we bring the best people to that team to support us and and that was really critical.

00:16:34 Prof Michele Barbour

And I really like your description of your business partners. The yin to your Yang, because I think it’s very easy to recruit in your own image if you like to sort of naturally lean towards working with people who are like you, whether it’s deliberate or or just a sort of a gut reaction thing. But obviously that’s not what you’ve done in this instance.

00:16:53 Prof Michele Barbour

Do you think that was?

00:16:54 Dr Shelby Temple

Important it was vital. You know, I had only met this person once before, and we agreed to do something that can be very, very. It’s like a marriage. Actually. We frequently called each other one another’s wives. And at one point, you know, I I took him to Paris on a business trip. And my wife had not been to Paris on business trip yet. And she was very disappointed. And she wondered about our relationship.

00:17:14 Dr Shelby Temple

But yeah, I know it’s it was really important and.

00:17:18 Dr Shelby Temple

I think the being able to work closely with someone who’s quite different, I mean, it wasn’t without its challenges. We would often argue tirelessly about things and and and quite loud. And some of the other employees would kind of go, Oh my gosh, get out of the room. This is crazy, but actually it was really important because we were usually.

00:17:35 Dr Shelby Temple

Saying the same thing but with a different language, and we often would.

00:17:38 Dr Shelby Temple

That end up getting to the same point.

00:17:41 Dr Shelby Temple

But in the process of getting there, we would have learned so much more about what it means from both sides of the argument. And so I think that and not being afraid to to have those arguments to, to raise your voice to, you know, to challenge things, to think differently, was really, really important in the process. Maybe we didn’t raise our voice quite as much as we did, but.

00:17:57 Dr Shelby Temple

You know we.

00:17:58 Dr Shelby Temple

We are still really, really good friends, even though our, you know, we’ve gone slightly different routes now.

00:18:03 Dr Shelby Temple

But yeah, really, really critical to the success of the business.

00:18:07 Prof Michele Barbour

Have you changed your? I don’t know your your approach to your business. If you were to found.

00:18:12 Prof Michele Barbour

A new spin?

00:18:13 Prof Michele Barbour

Out company, would you know things now through that relationship that you didn’t know when you started? Has it sort of changed your perspective or do you still think you’re the scientist, engineer and you need that business person to be your compliment?

00:18:24 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting how much you learn along the way and I think, yeah, I I was.

00:18:31 Dr Shelby Temple

I certainly would not start a business in isolation. I wouldn’t want to be the person in a business and I became the CEO a little bit by default. I wasn’t CEO when I started. I was sort of the science officer. We had a CEO really didn’t really work out. And so we we we changed that and I became the CEO because I was the the next, you know, I was the person who had all the knowledge.

00:18:51 Dr Shelby Temple

And could represent our company in a in a scientific space. Optometry does have the medical device space. It does require that you have a lot of science behind that. And so I was the right choice. But I didn’t want to be. I mean, I really wanted my co-founder, who’s more business minded to be the the, the, the, the role, the person in the front.

00:19:08 Dr Shelby Temple

But it worked out and and I think if I were if I were to do it again, yeah, the team would be the most important part actually. So I I don’t think I would start a business without having exactly the right people around me.

00:19:18 Prof Michele Barbour

I’m really glad you raised the point that you started off as the two science officer and moved CEO. It is sometimes said. I have been told to my face that scientists and academics or past academics don’t make good CEO’s and I absolutely refute that. And here’s another example, and I’ve met others as well that particularly if you’re you’re.

00:19:38 Prof Michele Barbour

Your customer base is scientifically minded, educated, founded.

00:19:44 Prof Michele Barbour

I think scientists can make fantastic CEO’s. I know of a number of examples and you just give me one more. Thankfully for that material. And so tell me about how you funded the company and we are you venture.

00:19:53 Dr Shelby Temple

Backed Angel backed. We are Angel backed. Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, one of the things that was really important to myself, my co-founder was.

00:20:01 Dr Shelby Temple

Who’s risk? You know where. Where do you put the risk and how do you do this as efficiently as possible? And so we in whether it was a mistake or not, we did everything ourselves. We hired in contractors to help us do things. We we were offered all sorts of opportunities to sort of outsource things. You know, we’ll take the we’ll we’ll design the device for you and and we’ll do this. We’ll do all the medical regs testing and.

00:20:22 Dr Shelby Temple

And we thought actually we were.

00:20:23 Dr Shelby Temple

This intelligent people that have the ability to adapt to whatever situation and we’d like to learn how to do this so we understand it from first principles and the few times we did outsource things, we were often really disappointed and.

00:20:37 Dr Shelby Temple

I think it’s it’s letting go. We weren’t very good at letting go and that was one challenge is you know you have to. You have to recognize where people can can fill in. And we thought it was better to manage that team ourselves. So bring the contractors in and manage that prop.

00:20:48 Dr Shelby Temple

Us so we were able to take our company from a crazy idea through to a class one certified medical device in a couple of years for less than £1,000,000, which is kind of pretty much unheard of. And we funded that through half £1,000,000 from the UK Government through an eye cure grant. They came off the back of the eye care actually.

00:21:09 Dr Shelby Temple

So that was really great to have that in in the UK, yeah, it was really nice. And then that quickly they required that you had backing from from investors. So we then got.

00:21:12 Prof Michele Barbour

Was in about in about OK yeah.

00:21:20 Dr Shelby Temple

From Park Walk, which is to the University of Bristol and the Bristol Private Equity club, and we were their second investment and they have been amazing all along. They’ve been beside us right through thick and thin. They’ve done multiple rounds of investment, super supportive and yeah, really thank them.

00:21:36 Dr Shelby Temple

For their.

00:21:36 Prof Michele Barbour

Support. I sometimes think that. I mean, investors do the obvious in a company. They provide money, they provide capital. But I really am pleased when I see the examples. When the investors provide more than capital they provide, sometimes it’s contact, sometimes it’s mentorship, sometimes it’s a sounding board, sometimes it’s a healthy challenge.

00:21:54 Prof Michele Barbour

Have you derived things beyond investment from your investors?

00:21:59 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, I think we’ve had a really a personal interaction with, you know, our investor advisor and when we went through the challenge of removing our CEO, that was a really difficult time. It happened over Christmas. I had gone back to Canada at that time. There were all these threats that things were going to happen while I was away.

00:22:14 Dr Shelby Temple

And it was just really, really difficult and our investors and our advisor in particular was there just sort of he wanted to hear all sides. He was he was open minded. So look, I don’t know either side of this. I need to know the full detail.

00:22:24 Dr Shelby Temple

Else but when we when everything became clear, he did the right thing and stood beside us right the way through it. And and I think we we built a bond through that process that was really, really great and, you know, still talking and chatting to him all the time. It’s really, really nice to have that back up. Yeah.

00:22:39 Prof Michele Barbour

Why does it always happen at Christmas? One of my most spectacular have to fire somebody investor stands by my side was just before Christmas as well, so I absolutely feel the pain of that and the need to have that, that supporting relationship. But I I think a lot of people, when they look for their first investment, don’t think of the investors anything beyond a pot of money. And I think that’s a massive missed opportunity.

00:22:58 Dr Shelby Temple

And that’s a mistake. Yeah, yeah, definitely. They they offer a lot and I think picking your investor, I mean it is.

00:23:04 Dr Shelby Temple

Obviously you need money and you’re going to get it from wherever you can to get forward, but if you can get investors that understand what you’re doing and and have that now.

00:23:11 Prof Michele Barbour

And buy it? Yeah. Buy it figuratively as well.

00:23:14 Dr Shelby Temple

As literally, yeah. Yeah, exactly. And and genuinely and genuinely want to help. You know, they don’t just they don’t just want to make money off you either. Right. There’s it’s gotta go both ways. And I think that’s.

00:23:23 Dr Shelby Temple

What was?

00:23:24 Dr Shelby Temple

The beauty of B pack is that, yeah, of course they want to get a return on this, but that’s not their main investment purpose. Their main investment purpose is to support things going on in the Bristol Community.

00:23:33 Dr Shelby Temple

And to support people that are doing great things that they believe in and I you know that’s that goes above and beyond everything else, yeah.

00:23:40 Prof Michele Barbour

So where is Azul now and where would you like it to be in where you pick the time scale one year, two years, 10 years where? Where is it now and?

00:23:49 Prof Michele Barbour

Where would you like it to get to?

00:23:50 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah. So we’ve taken this crazy idea from cuttlefish and octopus research, turned it into a medical device, put it into the market, show what it can do, showing that it can change patient behavior, shown that it can help optometrists, showing that it can sell more product for big multinational companies. And our plan was always to. So, you know, we knew we couldn’t survive as a medical device.

00:24:10 Dr Shelby Temple

Company with one product and we weren’t really intending to develop more, so we always knew it was going to get acquired by someone.

00:24:17 Dr Shelby Temple

And so we’re now at the phase where we’ve sort of done everything we can do. We’ve exhausted our potential. You know, we’ve done everything we would do as a a research and development company and it’s now in the situation where it’s ready to be acquired and we have the sort of full evidence base for that. So we’re in the process of selling the company now, which is again a really great learning experience, you know.

00:24:35 Dr Shelby Temple

It’s a whole new.

00:24:36 Dr Shelby Temple

Phase of of the process and I feel really privileged to have got this far to have gone through each of those steps and to now be the point of going OK what does this look like? What does selling a company look like? And that’s yeah, really.

00:24:47 Dr Shelby Temple

Another fun part of the journey? Brilliant.

00:24:50 Prof Michele Barbour

And then so we’ve looked kind of forwards looking back, is there any advice you would give yourself or anything?

00:25:00 Prof Michele Barbour

You might do differently if you had your time again.

00:25:05 Dr Shelby Temple

Remember that it takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you imagine it’s going to, and that marketing is really expensive, and I think that’s something that I definitely underestimated. I I I guess there’s a sort of thought in your mind if you create a great.

00:25:19 Dr Shelby Temple

Product that people love that will.

00:25:20 Prof Michele Barbour

Yeah, if you build it, they will come.

00:25:22 Dr Shelby Temple

We’re we’re we’ll spread. People will love it and they’ll do stuff. And I think to a certain degree that that happens, we do it with a lot of word of mouth.

00:25:28 Dr Shelby Temple

Which is great, but in our particular industry that’s very slow. You know the the optometrists aren’t using social media to tell each other what they’re buying and selling. They’re trying to use that to get customers. And we expected that the big industries that we were working with would really do that for us.

00:25:44 Dr Shelby Temple

And they were interested. And part of it was the times we we did suffer a little bit of COVID. Unfortunately it it affected us. We had a product to try and sell and we couldn’t go to trade shows and show people what it looked like. So we had to come up with creative solutions to sort of find ways. So I think if I could go.

00:25:59 Dr Shelby Temple

Back I would probably want to take, you know, 10.

00:26:02 Dr Shelby Temple

Times more money and do more marketing.

00:26:05 Prof Michele Barbour

I have to admit though, if you come from that science background.

00:26:09 Prof Michele Barbour

I’m I’m now really interested in marketing from an academic point of view, but I I was clueless. I think when I looked back and I was quite shocked at the, I felt when talking to potential customers acquirers.

00:26:21 Prof Michele Barbour

I could easily talk to the scientists we spoke the same language, we got each other. They could get really excited about my product. I could get excited about how they could use it.

00:26:29 Prof Michele Barbour

But then I thought I need to be talking to the executives very quickly. I learned it was. It wasn’t the topic Texas. It was the sales and marketing executives that had that huge sway, that huge power. And I understand why now. But I think that’s something that coming from a science background, you don’t necessarily anticipate. Certainly I didn’t. Anyway, it sounds like maybe you didn’t.

00:26:44 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was. There was a part of the business, you know, you you. I think when you start up a business spin of the business it’s.

00:26:50 Dr Shelby Temple

There’s so much focus, particularly in our space, to to come up with the technology to to solve the problem, to answer the question and and you sort of feel like if I do that, then someone else will pick up the pieces and make it make it go. And I guess you really have to put in place the right pieces of the puzzle to make that happen. And I and that gets back to, you know, the CEO role.

00:27:10 Dr Shelby Temple

You know, yes, I was the right CEO for what we plan to do with the business, a different CEO needs to pick it up now and take it further or another companies to grab this and and pull it into their to their under their umbrella to make it really achieve everything it could potentially achieve.

00:27:24 Prof Michele Barbour

And so if I answer my own question for a couple minutes ago, Fast forward five years as well has sold for a really lovely sum and and maybe you’re even capitalized to do the next spin out or start up, would you do it again?

00:27:38 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, and a heartbeat. Yeah, I really enjoyed the process. I learned so much. And it’s such an adventure. It’s a challenge. You know, I, I, I thought I’ve been an academic for so long, and I, you know, the pressures of academia were high and it.

00:27:52 Dr Shelby Temple

You know, but actually I found that business was even higher, like it was really, really difficult and.

00:28:00 Dr Shelby Temple

I wouldn’t do it again if I had to go back in time and do it again because there was some sacrifices that I made that I can’t get back, but I would definitely do it again in the future. It was, yeah, it was a lot of fun.

00:28:11 Prof Michele Barbour

If you were talking to a research associate now who’s maybe at that career stage that you were when you talked it, is there anything you would say to them to help them on their journey? Is there any way that you could not make some of those sacrifice or they could not make some of the sacrifices you had to?

00:28:27 Prof Michele Barbour

Or is or. Do you think Assad is an?

00:28:28 Prof Michele Barbour

Inevitable part of the process.

00:28:29 Dr Shelby Temple

Yeah, it is inevitable. It is a start up is. Yeah, you know, startups spin UPS. It’s like a marriage. And it’s all in consuming. And it can sacrifice your own marriage and life. You know, people really do. And I’ve seen it often. You need to find that balance if you can and stay with it and.

00:28:45 Dr Shelby Temple

And and I.

00:28:46 Dr Shelby Temple

Think you need to be prepared.

00:28:47 Dr Shelby Temple

To you have to give yourself space and forgiveness and.

00:28:54 Dr Shelby Temple

Be willing to sort of say actually, you know, if it all fails, that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll pick up. I’ll. I’ll carry on. And if you’re willing to do that, then you still are able to kind of protect yourself to some degree. But it does require such a huge investment that to be successful, you know, you are going to have to give an A heck of a lot. And I think I know I have.

00:29:14 Dr Shelby Temple

Mentored a few other people up and coming and I I’ve tried.

00:29:17 Dr Shelby Temple

To sort of warned them, but educate them around that to sort of get them prepared for what it’s going to come in life. And I think expectation is a huge part of that. And if you only see what we tend to see is only the successes when we talk about enterprise and we really need to have, you know, these interviews actually could probably interview some people that that failed.

00:29:37 Dr Shelby Temple

I think that would be OK because you can learn a.

00:29:39 Dr Shelby Temple

Lot from failure.

00:29:40 Dr Shelby Temple

So and we need to be seeing what those failures look like and what it means. And that people do pick up and carry on and and and have learned from that and taken those experiences and incorporate them in.

00:29:51 Dr Shelby Temple

Our lives because if we only look at the successes, we only see this sort of oh, yeah, it’s a rosy picture. This is amazing. And we we pick up on all the good stuff that happened, but we quite often forget the.

00:30:00 Dr Shelby Temple

Challenges and.

00:30:01 Prof Michele Barbour

Yeah. So tell Michelle. We looking forwards maybe in the longer term, what would you like to be the legacy of of your work?

00:30:11 Prof Michele Barbour

With azul.

00:30:13 Dr Shelby Temple

I think I would love to know that some proportion of the devices that are out there now that we’ve made and sold and are and are being used continue to be used for years to come and that each of them has an impact on people’s lives that that the sort of the, the heart of what I set out to do with this was to help people and educate people. I love educating people. And so if that device is a piece of that.

00:30:34 Dr Shelby Temple

Education and it continues to do so and it affects the hopefully thousands of lives that it will affect to think that we could extend people’s vision through life for longer would be a real success for me. So I I would love to walk into an optometry practice 10 years from now and have the optometrist offer to use my device to measure my own eyes. That would be a thrill.

00:30:53 Prof Michele Barbour

Would you tell them that it?

00:30:54 Prof Michele Barbour

Was yours? Yeah.

00:30:54 Dr Shelby Temple

Afterwards I test them versus see how they do with the test.

00:30:58 Prof Michele Barbour

Brilliant. Actually doing it right, that’s all for this enterprise session. But join us again soon to hear more about the way our amazing staff and students are translating their enterprising ideas into real world impact. And do please click on the links if you’d like to contact the University of Bristol.

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